Mild-mannered kindergarten teacher Neve Botticelli leads a double life. Thanks to a childhood tragedy and her paranoid father, she’s a trained warrior with extreme survival skills who lives off the grid.
When self-made billionaire Micah Kincaid storms into town in search of his son, Rowan, he’s pushy, entitled, and stands for everything she despises. Micah can’t believe a kindergarten teacher is barring the way to him getting crucial information or even just a glimpse of the boy his cheating ex kidnapped. They share only one thing in common: either will do anything to protect the four-year-old, who they soon discover is being held for ransom by an outlaw motorcycle gang.
But as they work together to get Rowan back, they start to see beyond each other’s masks. Could falling in love be even more dangerous than hunting down deadly criminals?
Sensuality Level: Behind Closed Doors
Sandy Vaile is an Australian motorbike-riding daredevil who isn’t content with a story unless there’s a courageous heroine and a dead body.
An excerpt from Combatting Fear:
A post office box under an alias wasn’t much to go on, but no matter how slim the chance of finding his son, Micah had to take it.
The Roman numerals on his Cartier watch read: 9:12 a.m. Crap, he’d wasted time sleeping. Using the front seat for leverage, he pulled himself into a sitting position, and the few clothes he’d had in his overnight bag slid off him—they’d been an inadequate substitute for a blanket. He rubbed a crick in his neck. Regardless of how comfortable the back seat of a Bentley was, a six-foot man did not fit horizontally. It wasn’t the first time he’d slept in a car though.
Dodging all the wildlife between his new wind farm site in New South Wales to this backwater town in South Australia, had made the journey tenser than playing a game of Frogger. He’d arrived at midnight, exhausted, and the place had been shut up tighter than a preserving jar.
In the morning light, Turners Gully was a charming rural township. There wasn’t a lot to it—the obligatory hotel and church aside—but there didn’t need to be, so long as . . .There it was: a kindergarten sign. The squat stone building was set a long way back from the road, as though surreptitiously nestling against the steep hillside would save it from detection.
A deep creek ran along one side, shaded by vast willow trees, and period cottages flanked the other sides. He pulled into the car park, shoved the car door open, and heaved himself onto the footpath to stretch cramped muscles. A quick pat down of his crumpled clothes wasn’t much improvement, but finding a place to freshen up would have to wait. Past experience told him he needed to get onto the trail of his estranged wife right away.
There were a couple of other cars parked out front, and squeals from children playing in the yard. Rowan might be there today. He could see him. Hold him.
As he strode towards the rustic front door, the insidious question that had been burning its way up his esophagus for the past year pricked Micah’s psyche. How long did it take a young child to forget an absent father? If he didn’t find Rowan soon, it might be too late.
Time and time again during the past year, he’d dropped everything to track his wife, Chelsea, across Australia. It was an unsustainable disruption to his business, and more than enough time with his son had been stolen. It was time to change this game of cat and mouse so the cat got the cream.
• • •
Rowan crouched in the kindergarten sandpit. Neve watched his pink lips vibrate with engine sounds as he pushed a yellow truck over miniature sand hills. Shaggy brown hair fell across his eyes, and she ached to push it back. Her throat closed and her chest heaved with a familiar emptiness.
“Neve! Neve!” Rowan raced towards her, toy truck held high and face distorted with distress. “The tipper won’t work. It’s busted and I didn’t do it. It’s ’posed to tip.”
He was fast dissolving into tears, as he often did when something didn’t go his way, and turned moist eyes, the colour of burnt sugar, towards her.
She squatted to get on his level. “Okay, slow down, Ro. Let me take a look. I know how to fix engines, but I don’t think that’s the problem here.”
“Is it busted?”
His bottom lip quivered and her heart wrenched. He leant in for a better view of the repairs, his small, warm body soft against her arm, smelling of Vegemite and the eucalyptus leaves he’d played in earlier. He trusted her to solve his problems, at least while he was in her care. When he went home . . .well, that was another story.
A raised voice inside the kindy caught her attention, but she couldn’t see what was going on from the yard. Annemarie would handle it. She turned back to the truck and held up a piece of wood for Rowan to inspect.
“Look, there was a twig stuck under the tray,” she said. “Now you can tip it up and down.”
“Yay! Thanks, Neve.” He raced back to the sandpit, engine sounds once again spluttering from upturned lips.
The voice inside got louder. “I demand to see my son right now!”
Adrenaline sprinted through Neve’s veins. The children and staff were her responsibility. She dashed across the yard, burst through the back door, and assessed the man looming over her second-in-charge, Annemarie. His hair stood up in erratic spikes, there was a dusting of stubble on his face, and his shirt was crumpled as though he’d just rolled out of bed in it. Fury hung in a cloud around him, vaporising from the angry heat of his skin.